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Democrats Want Charlie Baker To Ride T As Red Line Repairs Cause Delays

BOSTON (CBS) – With delays on the Red Line at three days and counting, there's mounting pressure on Governor Charlie Baker to improve MBTA service as a price hike is set to go into effect next month.

Riders have lost patience with the T as it runs reduced Red Line service for repairs following Tuesday's derailment, which damaged the tracks and signal system near the JFK-UMass station in Dorchester.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party has started an online petition calling on Baker, a Republican, to start riding the T himself, so he can better understand the challenges commuters face every day.

When asked directly about the petition Thursday, the governor didn't offer a direct answer.

"I think my job is always the same, which is to work with our colleagues at the T and the legislature to ensure that the T has the funding that it needs to upgrade a system that hasn't been modernized for over 30 years, in many cases, and to give people the best ride we possibly can. And that's my job and that's what I'm going to stick to," Baker told reporters.

"You've got to get onto the train once in a while and ride it like everyone else - hang onto the strap and hope you get there on time – to understand that plight that hundreds of thousands of commuters are suffering through," said Rep. Tommy Vitolo, who rode the Red Line on Thursday. "The soul-sucking that comes with derailments is awful."

The MBTA doesn't know how long it will take to fix the damaged track or signals in Dorchester.

"They're not going to know the answer to the question about 'when' for probably several more days as they continue to review the damage that was done," the governor said.

This was the second MBTA derailment in less than a week. Adding to riders' frustration, fares are scheduled to go up July 1. Another online petition is demanding the MBTA freeze those hikes until the system is fixed.

Read: Number Of MBTA Derailments Among Nation's Highest

"I think everybody appreciates the difficulties that are created by this derailment for anybody who's riding on that Braintree line," Baker said. "I think everybody is frustrated about the inconvenience that's going to be associated with this repair work. We've talked to the T about this several times and I think there's a general agreement that, whatever the interim strategy is here, it's got to be safe."

"When Governor Baker's late for a meeting, the meeting waits for him. That's not true for the rest of us, so when we're late for work, at best, our performance reviews suffer. For some of us who have jobs punching a clock, we might not have that job anymore." Vitolo said.

Baker said he's been getting updates every day since the derailment from the MBTA's general manager and the transportation secretary on how fast the repairs are being done. He understands that everyone wants the T "fixed tomorrow" but adds the repairs have to be done at night and on the weekends.

"We can't shut the T down to do the work every day, all day, because there are literally hundreds of thousands of people who rely on it every day to get where they go," the governor said. "The billion dollars that's currently on the table for the Red Line has been deployed and the real issue at this point is implementing it."

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